Nerd bling alert: Ready or not, the Windows watch is coming

Rumor has it Microsoft plans to head off Apple's iWatch effort. Let's hope Redmond doesn't repeat -- no, really -- its mistakes

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft is developing its own smart watch, apparently to compete with the alleged Apple iWatch campaign.

Of course, Microsoft is not copying Apple -- more the reverse. Geeks who are as old and cranky as I am will remember the Timex DataLink, a Microsoft-driven "smart watch" circa 1995 that could display your calendar and contacts on your wrist. You synced the watch with your PC by holding the watch face up to the CRT monitor, then watching the screen go into a series of rapid-fire seizure-inducing black-and-white patterns as the software downloaded data to the dingus. Though never a big seller, the DataLink became a collector's item among people who thought it would help them pick up chicks at Babylon 5 conventions. (It won't.)

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Then of course there were the Microsoft Smart Personal Technology (SPOT) watches, which debuted in 2003. Users were expected to pony up $10 a month to have weather, news, stock prices, and other data sent directly to their watch via FM broadcast. But that dog wouldn't hunt, either. Five years later Microsoft had to put SPOT down.

Keeping a watch on the WinWatch

So it's not at all surprising Microsoft would try again. The WSJ report is sparse on the details, but inside sources tell me the WinWatch is really going to be something. You'll be able to take and make calls, view and send texts, check your email, stream all your music and videos, play Xbox games, access files in your SkyDrive account, and edit Word and Excel docs on the 1.5-inch screen.

Of course, to set the date and time, you'll need to tap Start, select Programs, open the watch's Control Panel, tap the Settings button, then the Time tab, select Hours from the pull-down menu, and use the arrow keys to select the hour. Then you'll need to confirm that you want to do this (twice). After that, follow the same steps to set the minutes, seconds, AM/PM, time zone, and whether you want the WinWatch to automatically adjust to DayLight Savings Time. The whole process shouldn't take you more than half an hour.

Have I made my point? It's not the idea, it's the execution that counts. Remember, Microsoft designed a tablet OS decades before the iPad appeared, and it sucked. By and large, Apple executes extremely well, and Microsoft ... not so much.

With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft made a huge leap forward in getting away from devices that only an engineer with an infinite amount of patience could love. Of course, I recently upgraded to an HTC Windows Phone 8X, and now apps are freezing up on me and I'm getting the black screen of death a few times a day. I don't know if it's the phone or the OS that's the problem, but it's a feeling I'm all too familiar with.

Microsoft: Where good ideas are buried in bad designs

It's almost as if Microsoft's role in the universe of consumer electronics is to set the bar for bad design, thus showing how smart companies like Apple, and a few others like Sonos and Roku, can be. It's like they're saying: Hey, you know you paid too much money for that iGizmo, but remember it could be worse -- you could using one of ours instead.

If Microsoft does emerge with some kind of smart watch, I will happily take a look at it, but I won't expect to like it. It's a legacy that's hard for Redmond to outlive.

Would you buy a smart watch made by Microsoft? Post your timely thoughts below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Nerd bling alert: Ready or not, the Windows watch is coming," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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